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On Patrol in Cassia County

Cassia County sheriff’s deputy Terry Higley runs his dog, Lexis, during an April 4 training exercise in Burley.

BURLEY — Cassia County and Burley officials met May 7 to hash out details in a law enforcement services contract that provides sheriff services through a city division.

The meeting, which included civil discourse, resulted in the county commissioners and city council coming close to striking a deal to bump the city’s police services bill from $1.5 million to $1.6 million, increase the term of the two-year contract to three years and provide a built-in provision for putting the sheriff’s employees on a pay scale.

No decisions were made regarding the contract during the meeting. The next meeting is set at 10:30 a.m. May 21 in the Cassia County commissioner chambers.

The meeting was a far cry from the negotiations a few years ago when city and county officials considered terminating the contract and reverting services to a city police department because of personality conflicts and distrust between the city and county.

On Monday, one point discussed between the two government agencies was how much the contract should increase on subsequent years to cover the costs of inflation.

Doug Abenroth, attorney for the county, said a 3 percent increase would make sense with a provision in the contract to return unused city funds in the sheriff’s budget to the city each year.

Cassia County Commissioner Chairman Bob Kunau said he was uncomfortable locking the county into a three-year contract due to the unpredictability of the economy and he would prefer a one-year term.

“I can’t support over a one-year term, it has to be written that way,” Kunau said.

He later agreed to the longer term in order to form a consensus with the other two commissioners.

“Multi-year contracts are good for moral in the sheriff’s office,” Abenroth said.

Abenroth said a clause could be included in the contract to revisit the term in case of a catastrophe like an economic collapse.

Commissioner Paul Christensen questioned whether the funds to pay for an additional school resource officer were included in the contract.

Cassia County Sheriff Jay Heward said the contract amount does not include the additional school resource officer.

City Attorney David Shirley said the city is willing to “pitch in” extra for that.

The new resource officer would just serve the schools inside the city.

It costs $80,000 a year to fund the school resource officer.

City Administrator Mark Mitton said the city of Blackfoot, similar in size to Burley, has three resource officers.

Mitton said the city could use the extra officer during the summer for code enforcement and during events.

The current school resource position is paid half by the county, half by the Cassia County School District and serves the entire county.

Commissioner Tim Darrington asked if the new officer would require a patrol car.

Heward said the department has one spare car but if a car breaks down they would need an additional one.

Mitton said law enforcement loses $47,000 in service every time there is officer turnover. He said the city would like to see more money put into retaining officers through wages.

Cassia County Undersheriff George Warrell said the citizens’ advisory committee recommended putting a pay scale in place for sheriff office employees and the new contract has pay increases built in to start evening employee pay within the grades.

“The one thing we’re really missing right now is a pay scale,” he said.

There is a lot of disparity within the ranks, he said.

Cassia County Clerk Joe Larsen said there are also issues with the maximum amount of the justice fund levy, which is an issue statewide, and with raising sheriff employee wages without increasing other county wages.

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